|Hundreds of PS 86 supporters came out to a Nov. 18 meeting to pretest proposals that would eliminate the school's 6th grade and change its zoning. (Photo by Alina Rodriguez)|
By Alina Rodriguez
The entire PS 86 community — parents, faculty, students and alumni — came out in force recently to vehemently oppose two city proposals that would dramatically change the landscape of this overcrowded, but successful school.
Hundreds of PS 86 supporters gathered on Nov. 18 at a Community Education Council of District 10 meeting to demand the Department of Education stop proposals to eliminate the school’s 6th grade and re-zone it to reduce the number of families who could send their children there.
Longtime PS 86 Principal Sheldon Bernardo, who also attended the school in his youth, was upset with not only the proposals, but also how the DOE approached the school about its plans. He said the DOE talked to the school only after speaking with the education council, which must approve of any zoning changes.
“The conversation consisted of this is what we plan and if you don’t like it you can go to Brooklyn,” Bernardo said. “They came without Spanish speakers, knowing our community is 85 percent Hispanic. They cannot communicate with our community and it is insulting, ridiculous and unfair.”
Located on Reservoir Avenue in Kingsbridge Heights, just across the street from the massive Kingsbridge Armory, PS 86 is currently overcrowded in both the main building and its satellite mini school.
There are currently 1,767 students enrolled in facilities built to house 1,200 students. The school offers two bilingual classes per grade, a pre-k program, and special education. It has received an A grade on its progress report for each of the past three years.
To ease some of the overcrowding problems, the Office of Portfolio Planning at the DOE is proposing to eliminate the zone of choice shared by PS 86, PS 340 and PS 246, which enables close to 300 families whose addresses fall within the zone to choose which school their children will attend. That zone would be broken up into three smaller zones corresponding to each school.
“I do not want re-zoning,” said Kathy Ann Jeremiah, a parent of two children who attend PS 86. “As a parent, I should have the option of choosing which school is best for my child to attend.”
The proposal also calls for the “truncation” (or elimination) of the 6th grade at PS 86 and PS 340. Last year, the DOE eliminated the 6th grade at PS 246 without much opposition. DOE representatives said the elimination of 6th grade would regulate enrollment and permit students to enter the middle school choice process at the same time.
“It’s scary to be living in limbo,” said Gladys Hechaverria, a 6th grade teacher at PS 86. “And not knowing the status of my job.”
In a meeting with the school last month, according to PS 86 officials who attended the meeting, a representative from the Office of Portfolio Planning said the re-zoning and the elimination of 6th grade would open up space for the co-location of a new middle school within the building.
“People from Planning talk in numbers, they don’t talk about children,” said Bernardo. “They are not parents [and don’t] live in the community, so how can they come into our community and force these ideas down people’s throats that are so strongly opposed.”
The school has collected over 900 signatures of opposition to the re-zoning and truncation of the 6th grade. They also held two bilingual meetings to inform their large Hispanic community.
After learning about the proposals, the consensus among the PS 86 community was clear.
“This cannot happen. Our community will be damaged,” said Sonny Rodriguez, a 1st grade teacher. “We have two bilingual classes per grade and have received an A on our progress report for three years now. Don’t fix something that is not broken.”
Councilman Fernando Cabrera, who represents many PS 86 families, attended the Nov. 18 meeting to show his support for the school and his opposition to the proposals. “I believe the proposals will not pass and am here to ensure PS 86 and support them any way I can,” Cabrera said.
Since the zoning proposals were never officially proposed, the education council didn’t vote on them. It’s unclear what will happen to the truncation proposal. The DOE did not respond to inquiries.
Community Education Council President Marvin Shelton said he anticipates further discussion on the zoning in the area as well as the overcrowding of PS 86.